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A Taste of Nostalgia

Today was one full of old food memories, every one of them delicious. And so, I thought I would share them with you; even though you likely don’t share the same memories I’m sure you have your own nostalgic foods to enjoy. Perhaps this post will spark an old flame or spur you on to dig up a forgotten taste…

My mom was one of the people who inspired me to start cooking; she was a great cook, even though she had hardly any experience when she started to cook for our family. Her sense of adventure, and the electric frying pan, were the secret to many a wonderful meal. As such, I find it a particular compliment that she now asks me for recipes. The internet is the biggest cookbook in the world, and she is on her computer all the time… and yet, when she is looking for a remembered taste she sends me an email. I have taken to posting the recipes she requests here on the blog, so that they are in one place for posterity. After all, I started out with all my favourite recipes of hers in one place – I bought the same black notebook she had and copied out everything (shortbread cookies,  lemon loaflemon pudding cakebutter-tarts … you get the idea). Today she asked me for shortcake biscuits . I had to chuckle when I pulled the recipe with my notes to post it, as it’s one of the first ones I ever cooked.strawberry-shortcake I’m excited to find out what exotic fruit she puts in the shortcake, being in Mexico for the winter 🙂

Just to top the day off, we got to enjoy some of my husband’s Québécois nostalgia as well. He made tourtière over the Christmas break and froze it for us to enjoy – tonight is the night! I must say, simple comfort food is something at which the Québécois excel.

So, amidst the guilt of having to start new things for a new year and the pressure of having to live up to all the inspirational quotes that get posted everywhere, how about a taste of days gone by? Familiar tastes are what comfort food is all about.

Not to mention, it’s cold and snowy here, so this really hit the spot.

Stay warm!

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Foodies in the Big City

Martin and I spent a couple of days in Vancouver last week, catching up on our foodie fix and thoroughly enjoying a concert – we got to see Sting and Paul Simon on stage together. (Remember, I did say I like to make the most of life in general!) I thought I would share some of our highlights.

We stopped at IKEA on the way into town – a great stop for any foodie who wants to be funky without breaking the bank. Serving dishes and linens for entertaining, nifty Swedish condiments like lingonberry jam to jazz up Sunday dinner, and candles of all shapes and sizes are there for the taking. Oh, and if you have kids, they have hot dogs for less than $1 and a play room. So now you have no excuse 🙂

IKEA dining fun

Staying downtown was important if we were to cover as much ground as possible in a short visit. We found a boutique hotel that was central, but without parking with in Vancouver is a real hassle so I would recommend one of the larger places that offers on-site parking if you drive to Vancouver.

I used Trip Advisor to give us some suggestions as to funky places. Checking the reviews and filtering the complaints with a grain of salt is a good way to give us a short list, I find. Then we discuss what we feel like and we head out! The first night we chose a place called Twisted Fork Bistro, and although the usually great Trip Advisor Guide app gave us totally wrong directions we managed to find it before the rain got too heavy (it’s on Granville Street, NOT on Robson as the app says, if you’re looking).

My feet hurt by the time we arrived, but it turned out to be worth the effort. If you like mussels, you have to visit this cozy little long bar. If you want small servings or sharing plates, it’s a fantastic choice. If you like wine, they offer BC wines on their list, and they have a fun choice called “just a glass” for a great price. The serving staff will tell you about what is featured that night, and even if you go for a name choice the prices are competitive and the choices excellent. We also shared a “roo loin” – yes, I will eat adventurous food. It was delicious with the balsamic glaze, sauteed green onions and watermelon cubes. The watermelon was also inspired with the Bacon Brussel Sprouts we ordered! Mussels are served with frites piled over top, in a cream sauce. It was like a continental French poutine – decadent for sure. Twisted Fork mussels

The good thing about appetizer portions is that it tends to leave you more room for dessert. The chef here is a pastry chef so don’t miss out if you can help out. We had the chocolate terrine, but all the choices sounded delectable.

don't you love the fork logo in the sugar?!

don’t you love the fork logo in the sugar?!

The next morning we headed for Granville Island Market, the place we used to meet for breakfast when we were first dating. Saturday morning donuts, fresh fruit and coffee is a family tradition for us. Lee’s Donuts and JJ Bean Coffee didn’t disappoint. Donuts just glazed and still warm, and some of the finest roasted beans I have ever tasted made me feel like I could take on the world!

Shopping for dinner is the other fun activity at the market, and there are many offerings for every taste. We like Seigel’s Bagels (Martin is from Montreal; need I say more?), and Benton Brothers Fine Cheese (try the Abondance from France – it’s divine! They will help with wine pairings too, if you like). Choose your veggies ruthlessly, and ask the experts to help you with seafood and meat – they love the compliment and you won’t regret it. If you just want pâté or cured meats, check out Oyama Sausage Co. – they have it all. And if you want fresh pasta, Duso’s is my go-to place – their butternut squash ravioli is divine 🙂

An aside here: You have to train if you’re going to embark on this kind of foodie day. A lot of walking helps, but you want to psyche yourselves for the notion of basically eating non-stop all day. Tasting is the key – don’t look to have large portions, as variety is the objective here. You will be full at the end of the day, for sure, but a good workout for the next few days afterwards will get you back in balance. It’s worth it, trust me. 

From the market we went to see a friend who has a wonderful business on South Cambie. Tracy Kadanoff has been a pastry chef for years and she developed an allergy to gluten. So what did she do? She made lemonade – she opened a bakery where she could still do her beautiful work, Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery.

Lemonade Bakery showcase Not only does she do breads and cookies, she does fine cakes and pastries, all from gluten free recipes. You certainly won’t feel like you’re missing anything here! We got goodies for friends who eat gluten free, and we treated ourselves to a salted caramel chocolate tart that we had later that evening. Then across the street I even managed to find treats to take home for “the troops” (our dogs) at Three Dog Bakery.

Time for lunch! I wanted a stroll at English Bay, especially since it wasn’t raining on a February day. So we decided to eat the food of the ‘hood, and go Mediterranean. I know it sounds silly, but we really did go to the Falafel King, on Denman Street. I have to tell you, my first ever restaurant job was in a Lebanese place kind of like this in Calgary, and this place was just as authentic and equally as tasty. If you don’t believe me, check out the link and see the reviews!

We sat on a park bench at English Bay and nibbled our lunch – my falafel was divine, and Martin’s shawarma was delicious. I thought of my Dad, whose ashes were strewn over the waves there years ago, and wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and warmed us up. English Bay remembering Daddy

We enjoyed the heat, and the view, and we relaxed for a while. Then we thought. perhaps we should see about a little something sweet 🙂 So off we went down Denman Street. We window shopped and wandered, and eventually found ourselves at an old haunt, True Confections. Martin used to run the kitchen here, so he knew just the thing. A pie of Mud Cake was just what we needed. It’s dense, with an equally dense chocolate fudge icing. We shared a piece as we walked back to the car. If you’re going, I would also recommend the Devil’s Food Cake with marshmallow icing, or the Lemon Heaven Cake with its lemon mousse and sponge cake layers covered in white chocolate glaze.

Time to rest up, as the day was not over yet! We headed back to the hotel to change shoes (lots of walking – it helps work off the calories!). After a couple of hours, we headed out for dinner. We wanted to go to Chambar, but they were full. I should have known, as this is a very hip and popular spot. But this was an evening more for something spontaneous, so we wandered down the road. Gastown is full of little eateries, so we weren’t worried.

We found the Revel Room, not full and yet bustling with an energy that we liked. The retro light fixtures and old concert posters gave a cozy feel to the place, and we liked the menu from the first glance. Success! 01a831378fc11444509f228f42049f8676da26b216I thoroughly enjoyed the New Orleans Fix, a house special made with bourbon, citrus juices and homemade pineapple syrup. Martin had one of their craft beers and we shared their Chili Shrimp and their Polenta Strips. They were the perfect snacks before our concert.

Being “of an age” we have amassed a number of memories and many of them are wrapped in music. A chance to see two legends together, intertwining their classics by sharing voices and bands was a truly magical evening. I was a huge Sting fan as a young adult, and Martin’s first concert was the Police. My parents played Simon & Garfunkel all through my childhood and Martin named his dogs after Paul (a Doberman) Simon (a German Shorthaired Pointer). We didn’t get up and dance, but I swear I worked off a few hundred calories in my seat!

We finished the evening off by sharing the tart from Lemonade Bakery back in the hotel room with a cup of tea… the perfect end to the perfect day.

Our trip ended on a high note, with a family breakfast at a funky diner called The Red Wagon. Martin’s daughter Chloae joined us for good old-fashioned hearty morning fare, along with some of the best diner java I’ve had since eating in Harlem. It might sound weird, but pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels-spiked syrup are really good, as is Brisket & Eggs. I went a bit more traditional with Eggs Benny, but they did have pulled pork instead of ham. It was a sublime meal. We all took pictures of each other’s food, and hummed as we ate 🙂

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I know I have rambled, but I wanted to share every delectable moment. I hope you have the stamina to enjoy at least a few of these moments on your next visit to Vancouver; if not, perhaps this article will inspire you to start training.

If you have any foodie trips or moments you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for new horizons!

Let’s Talk Turkey

This is a guest post by my husband, Chef Martin Laprise. Martin offers many of these tips at his festive season dinner parties and they are always met with lots of grateful thanks and visions of light bulbs over the head. I hope they offer you some assistance in enjoying the holidays as much as possible and not stressing out 🙂

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Cooking a holiday feast is always a lot of pressure for the cook. There are lots of dishes to prepare for this dinner, and everyone expects it all to arrive at the table hot and beautiful. I have news for you – this takes practice, and just like the girls on the covers of magazines are retouched, so are the turkeys! So set yourself up for success with these few pointers:

  • Brining your turkey adds moisture, so if you are worried about a dry bird, use this technique before you cook (usually overnight for a turkey). There are lots of great recipes on the internet for brines – choose the one you like. NOTE: basting your turkey will NOT make it more moist. I don’t care what Gramma told you. Once the meat starts to cook, no moisture will go in. This is not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact.
  • If you want a beautiful turkey to present on your table, start out with it covered in foil paper. You can always make it darker at the end of the cooking with a blow torch (like the magazine people do), but if it gets too dark, you’re stuck. Also, during the cooking time rotate the turkey at least 3 times (make sure it completes a whole circle) – even if you are using a convection oven. This will help it to cook evenly.
  • To make a stress free gravy, buy an extra turkey leg and make the gravy with that while your turkey finishes cooking. Brown the leg really well, make a stock, thicken with flour and voila! Awesome gravy that didn’t have to happen at the last minute.
  • If you want a stuffing recipe, you can check out the one I put up on my website for Thanksgiving turkey – it works great at Christmas too.

If you would like more cooking tips from a handsome Okanagan chef, book me for a dinner in your home. I will come to your house with the ingredients and cook everything from scratch. You can watch and ask as many questions as you like 🙂 Feel free to send me an email to arrange a booking. To see more of what I do, check out my website at www.thechefinstead.ca

… Comes Around

this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).

I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells  organic lemons and fair trade coffee and  artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.strawberry fields

I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.

Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.

I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!

Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me thereslow soup too!

If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.

Inspiration

I saw a fantastic YouTube video this morning, about a great food service experience.  It made me think, perhaps sometimes we might have a better experience if we started out by being better customers. We are always harping about staff being surly or uninterested but if we start off on the right foot, with a smile or a friendly greeting, that couldn’t hurt, right?

from factsworthknowing.blogspot.com

I think that’s one of my favourite reasons I enjoy cooking. Sharing food is almost always a pleasant experience (except say, when your kids don’t appreciate your hard work spent on Sunday dinner). Food cheers people up. You have to be careful not to over-use that sentiment – the odd tub of Haagen-Das or Ben & Jerry’s to drown heartbreak or other sorrows is a worthy remedy, but it shouldn’t be used every time you have a bad day. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have a positive memory attached to such a good treat?

Food memories are important in our lives too. That’s how we decide on what we define as comfort food. Having tuna casserole on cold winter nights while sharing family stories made it one of my childhood faves. And associations of food with other people or places helps to strengthen memories, too. I still remember a summer of “huckle-blue-toons” with my cousins while vacationing at Kootenay Lake in B.C. Those prolific wild berries (we could never figure out if they were huckleberries, Saskatoons, or blueberries) were in pancakes, pies, muffins, and on our hands and clothes, too. Memories like that help me when I am wine tasting; the smell and taste of that experience solidifies “blueberries” in my olfactory system. I am often inspired when experiencing new flavours to try and add them to my mental catalog for future reference. A whiff of cardamom from the chai at an Indian restaurant was an exciting aroma I wanted to remember. It became the impetus I needed to create an exotic version of rice pudding one night at home.

Back to the idea of being a good customer… if I remember a good time and try to repeat that or share it while I am out shopping or dining, can I influence the employees I deal with?  I think there is hope; they say that even clinically depressed people feel better after smiling for even a few minutes. (Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to insinuate that most service staff are clinically depressed.) If it doesn’t work, all I have to do is keep my sense of humour. Laughing is much better medicine than crying.

So, in an effort to give you more ways to keep smiling, here is a link to a fellow blogger who muses about the humour and silliness in everyday commuting, Train Pains… and here is the link for that wonderful video.

The most soulful fast food order ever, via happyplace.com

If you need more reasons, try these ten reasons to smile:

1. Smiling Makes Us Attractive

2. Smiling Changes Our Mood

3. Smiling Is Contagious

4. Smiling Relieves Stress

5. Smiling Boosts Your Immune System

6. Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure

7. Smiling Releases Endorphins, Natural Pain Killers and Serotonin

8. Smiling Lifts the Face and Makes You Look Younger

9. Smiling Makes You Seem Successful

10. Smiling Helps You Stay Positive

Happy Hump Day!

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